Bomberger’s Declaration

BOMBERGER’S DECLARATION
Batch #18C317 (2018)

MASH BILL – Unknown bourbon mash bill

PROOF – 108

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – Bottled by Michter’s

PRICE – $76

BUY AGAIN? – Not likely, mostly due to $$$

My journey with Michter’s continues, this time with their annual Bomberger’s release. I picked this 2018 edition up that year, and have been sitting on it ever since. It’s hard to come by. But my waiting to uncork it has more to do with it getting shifted to the side of the bunker while other bottles came and went.

I recently uncorked my second bottle of Michter’s other annual release, Shenk’s, and used that as an occasion to finally uncork the Bomberger’s as well. I was immediately struck by how similar they were. Identical twins, it seemed, and despite some key differences. At 108 proof, Bomberger’s is 16.8 proof points higher than the Shenk’s. Shenk’s is classified as a whiskey, not a bourbon or rye, while Bomberger’s is a bourbon, so while the mash bills may overlap in some respects they must also be different. The 2017 Shenk’s was finished in toasted French oak barrels, which tend to lend a richness to whiskeys, while Bomberger’s was finished in Chinquapin oak, which tends to impart bold oak notes.

The significance of these differences makes the similarity of the two whiskeys all the more striking. I wondered what a bit more air in the bottle might eventually bring in the way of distinction…

This bottle has been open now for about two weeks. I’m on the third pour, and tasting it in a traditional Glencairn. Here first are the notes in brief.

COLOR – a beautifully deep, vibrant orange, with buttery yellow at the edges

NOSE – fragrant floral rye notes floating above a layer of rich caramel, with baking spices and fresh cinnamon rolls beneath

TASTE – a nice peppery edge up front, then the sweet rye florals tilting into more savory herbs, and finally a deeper, richer wave of the caramel, with a sprinkle of baking spices

FINISH – a toasted cinnamon roll, with all the baking spices, caramelized sugars and doughy bread that goes with it, then after some time a return of the rye florals and herbs, all of this rather low key, and eventually capped off with a discernibly bitter edge

OVERALL – a very nice outing of that signature Michter’s high-rye/caramel flavor profile, pretty as always, only this time leaning darker than brighter

This is indeed so very much like the Shenk’s I tasted the other night. I know already I’ll be doing a comparison before this post is done. But for now, the Bomberger’s:

I enjoy its dark vibrancy. The flavor profile is very familiar. And as ever I am impressed by that particular Michter’s caramel. Likewise, the letdown on the finish is familiar. All the familiarity leaves me with a sense of disinterest. With nothing terribly new to experience, I just want to get on with sipping it as I do something else. In other words, it’s not a Main Event bourbon for me, but a bourbon to accompany some other activity. And that’s fine. We need those on the shelf. Not at this price, though.

I’m feeling like a broken record these days with Michter’s products. Their 10-year single barrel rye yielded similar notes—beautiful color, a fragrant and floral nose, the vibrant caramel taste, and a finish that follows suit in terms of flavors, lingering at length yet without particular strength. Then the 2017 Shenk’s Homestead showed similarly pretty colors, a floral/spice bouquet of a nose, taste centered around bright caramels, and a fine but not fully satisfying finish. My memory of the last 10-year single barrel bourbon I had from Michter’s is likewise similar.

Now trying some 2017 Shenk’s next to this 2018 Bomberger’s, the color is almost an exact match, with the Bomberger’s appearing almost imperceptibly darker if I study them long enough. The difference is so subtle I cannot be entirely certain whether they’re actually different or I’m willing them to be so. On the nose, Bomberger’s leans more into the caramel aspects and Shenk’s has a distinct citrus element brightening the floral/caramel blend. Both bring cinnamon rolls and autumn flower/herb bouquets to mind. Then on the taste, Shenk’s leans brighter and butterier while Bomberger’s leans darker and spicier. The Shenk’s finishes with a floral and buttery emphasis, and the Bomberger’s with a caramel and wood-spice bent. These differences feel at once distinct and subtle—distinct in the way I’ve described, subtle in that neither whiskey’s distinctions lean away from the other’s to an extreme, and I find them otherwise indistinguishable.

What’s the key differential? Is it the French versus Chinquapin oak? Is Bomberger’s comprised of slightly older whiskeys than Shenk’s? Is it the difference in proof? And what keeps them nevertheless so strikingly similar? The mash bills? The filtration processes?

Because I favor darker bourbons in general, I’ll likely be reaching for Bomberger’s more often. That said, the price difference is significant—though in 2020 both now qualify as high-end purchases.

And that brings me to the other broken-record aspect of my journey with Michter’s—that despite the evident quality of their whiskeys, their prices simply rub me the wrong way when weighed against the tasting experience. These are good whiskeys. But an excellent, less expensive 1792 or Jefferson’s Reserve is also good, for example. And for florid high-rye notes that please without commanding my attention, 1792 and Jefferson’s are pretty dependable pours. Why pay more for that experience?

I do love the color of Michter’s whiskeys, always so vibrant. The nose is likewise dependably vibrant. Their particular caramel notes are always vivid, juicy, and thick. All of this I truly enjoy. But there is that tendency in the finish of a Michter’s whiskey to go bitter, tannic, or in some other manner acrid. And though the finish typically lingers a long while, it does so at a very low volume. The finish is what you’re ultimately left with when sipping a whiskey. That the finish on Michter’s products is consistently a letdown in the wake of their excellent color, nose, and taste, is a significant factor in my reluctance to fully embrace the brand. If I’m going to pay Michter’s prices, I want the full deal clear through to the end.

Like every Michter’s bottle I’ve had, I’ll enjoy this Bomberger’s while it lasts. Especially as it will likely be my last, I’m sorry to say. I want to like Michter’s more than I do. But I don’t. And that’s fine. There are other people who will enjoy the future bottles I’ll pass up more than I would have, and they should have them.

As ever, there are no bad whiskeys. Just whiskeys one prefers more or less than others.

Cheers.

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